13 December 2019

Creating a bias-free learning environment

Komal Lahri (orange T-shirt) during a teachers training session
By Komal Prasad Lahri

Although I never faced any discrimination myself, I have sometimes seen people around me discriminating against other individuals on the basis of caste or religion or other such societal classifications. 

On a school visit in Gundardehi, a block in Chhattisgarh, I was talking to class 3 children. One of the girls, sitting in a corner, was not participating in the questions I asked and seemed to be cast aside from the group. I went up to her and started asking her basic questions--how old are you?, What class are you in?, Do you know how to count?, and so on. She did not answer.
Suddenly, the teacher told me, “She is a shala-tyagi, there is no point in teaching her,”

I was shocked. The teacher had used these words in an insulting way, and that too unabashedly. On further discussion with her, I was told that a ‘shala-tyagi’ is a child who drops out of school due to his/her parents, who are mostly migrating laborers. Their parents, who often travel to different cities looking for work, take the children with them causing a break in their education. Sometime, the parents come back after long period and the child shows up for school, but mostly the names of such children are enrolled in the school even though they do not attend classes. Since these children have low attendance, the teachers who change frequently along with schools, are least interested in their learning outcome. 

I took it upon myself to change this reality- at least for this girl. I sat her down with the number-line and started counting- one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, one, two, three, and on and on until she started saying the numbers with me. 

In around 45 minutes, she had learnt how to count from 1 to 5. I was so proud. I was proud of her. 

I went up to the teacher and told her what the child had accomplished with a little patience from me and a little help from the number line. She hesitantly agreed to give her more attention. 

Looking back, I hope that this word ‘shala-tyagi’ will be erased forever and no child will ever face discrimination based on their family, caste, circumstances, or otherwise. 

(The writer is a Spark at sampark Foundation. He is in Dist. Balu, Chhattisgarh. Views are personal)